The pace of change in the world is mostly dictated by technology. Human ingenuity and inventiveness has been responsible for shaping our environment and the way we live throughout history, and in recent times we’ve seen that pace accelerating dramatically.
It’s hard to think of a single area of our lives that hasn’t been drastically reshaped by technology over the past 20 or 30 years, but certainly, healthcare must stand out as one of the most obvious examples of a sector radically improved by technological advances.
In the medical field, technology has provided new tools and research opportunities, leading to better and more accessible treatment for patients. Technology has helped to limit and even eliminate illnesses and natural phenomena that have been responsible for millions of deaths or disabilities.
This technology may take the form of new vaccines and better drug delivery methods, or it may be as simple as better, affordable eye care for those in developing countries.
The Digital Frontier
In terms of technology that has impacted on health we could legitimately include improved farming methods, clean water treatment and so much more, but for the moment we will just cover the specific US healthcare industry.
IT has been a major boon in this industry and a starting point could be to look at how transferring over from physical patient records, kept on paper in a particular hospital or surgery, to electronic health records (EHRs) that are digitized and available to registered health professionals anywhere on the planet has changed medical practice for the better.
Doctors and nurses now routinely use hand-held computers to record patient data in real time and automatically share it with their medical history, which they can instantly access. This accessibility is also of great advantage in emergency situations where data can even be accessed via a professional’s smartphone. This means that even if a patient is unconscious their full medical history can immediately be viewed.
The doctor can also be alerted to allergies, intolerances or other potential issues automatically, a fact that has saved lives and sped up treatment. When patient history can be accessed from any authorized facility, medical billing, scheduling appointments and submitting claims are also much easier.
Allowing this information to be shared also improves medical knowledge generally. It can be used to quickly identify a bacterial outbreak or virus so that moves can be made to contain or neutralize the infection.
The huge amount of data being collected and stored by the healthcare sector, as well as the need for it to be immediately accessible to professionals worldwide, has led to the need for a cloud-based solution for data storage.
Under CEO Charles Phillips, independent software provider Infor pioneered the notion of deploying an entire industry on the cloud and looks after over 58m cloud users, including many healthcare providers. The cloud is safer, more secure and has far lower operating costs than the alternative of storing this data on physical computers which may fail or be hacked.
Other advantages of data storage and sharing via the cloud have included the boost to research which has led to the development of new treatments and drugs, as well as the ability to predict and manage potential epidemics. It has undoubtedly saved many lives as well as reducing waste, lowering costs and increasing efficiency.
IT in healthcare has also reached the public, as people can now access treatment, advice, and consultations via their phones or PCs.
As well as telemedicine developments like video consultations and the transmission of readings and information directly from the patient to a facility, there are also now thousands of healthcare apps enabling us to monitor our heart rate and blood sugar levels, manage our medication, exercise effectively, perform routine diagnostics and treat our mental health. This has given ordinary people greater control over their healthcare and is particularly valuable in remote areas or in big cities where resources are overstretched.
Robotics and AI
In the operating theatre, robotic surgeons are now commonly being used. Guided by an experienced doctor, these robots are capable of greater accuracy than human beings and do not suffer from fatigue. Artificial intelligence programs are being used to analyze data and even to develop new drugs in response to viruses like Ebola. These can be tested in simulated conditions to determine their effectiveness.
Nanotechnology is also being developed for drug delivery systems and microsurgery in the future, while cybernetic replacement limbs and organs are becoming increasingly sophisticated. 3D printing technology will make artificial body parts even more effective and affordable.
These are just a few of the ways that technology has impacted on healthcare, and tomorrow looks even more exciting. Healthcare remains at the technological vanguard, bringing better patient care and fighting disease on all fronts. Breakthroughs in DNA and genome sequencing promise even more revolutionary applications on their way.